Multiple Grammy Nominee and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow Miguel Zenón represents a select group of musicians who have masterfully balanced and blended the often-contradictory poles of innovation and tradition. Widely considered as one of the most groundbreaking and influential saxophonists of his generation, he has also developed a unique voice as a composer and as a conceptualist, concentrating his efforts on perfecting a fine mix between Latin American Folkloric Music and Jazz.
His latest release, Típico (Miel Music, 2017) celebrates the Miguel Zenón Quartet, his working band of more than 15 years, which includes Venezuelan pianist Luis Perdomo, Austrian bassist Hans Glawischnig and fellow Puerto Rican drummer Henry Cole. The album features original music by Zenón, which was specifically written for the members of the Quartet and directly inspired by their individual playing and personalities. The end result is a testament to the band’s unique chemistry and their outstanding collective musicianship.
Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Zenón studied classical saxophone at the Escuela Libre de Música in Puerto Rico before receiving a bachelor’s degree in Jazz Studies from Berklee College of Music, and a master’s degree in Jazz Performance at Manhattan School of Music. Zenón’s more formal studies, however, are supplemented and enhanced by his vast and diverse experience as a sideman and collaborator. Throughout his career he has divided his time equally between working with older jazz masters and working with the music’s younger innovators --irrespective of styles and genres. The list of musicians Zenón has toured and/or recorded with includes: Charlie Haden, Fred Hersch, Kenny Werner, David Sánchez, Danilo Perez, The Village Vanguard Orchestra, Guillermo Klein & Los Guachos, The Jeff Ballard Trio, Antonio Sanchez, David Gilmore, Paoli Mejias, Brian Lynch, Jason Lindner, Miles Okazaki, Ray Barreto, Andy Montañez, Jerry Gonzalez & The Fort Apache Band, The Mingus Big Band, Bobby Hutcherson and Steve Coleman.
He is also a founding member of the groundbreaking SFJAZZ Collective, a group whose past and current members include Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Lovano, Joshua Redman, Brian Blade, Nicholas Payton, Dave Douglas and Eric Harland. In the years 2012 and 2013, Zenón’s association with SFJAZZ expanded even further, when he served as resident artistic director for the first two seasons of the SFJAZZ Center, along with Bill Frisell, Jason Moran, Regina Carter and John Santos.
Zenón’s ten recordings as a leader (including the above mentioned Típico) represent not only his growth as a musician, but also his ability to constantly evolve and reinvent himself as a conceptualist and producer.
His debut CD, Looking Forward (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2002), represents a snapshot of the very eclectic musical interests of the then 24-year-old musician, and was selected by the New York Times as the number one “alternative” jazz recording of 2002.
His second recording as a leader, Ceremonial (Marsalis Music, 2004), was described by All About Jazz as a “ head on crash of Latin, Jazz and Classical traditions--modern Jazz at it’s very best, ” and garnered unanimous critical praise and recognition both within and outside the jazz world.
Jíbaro (Marsalis Music, 2005), his third recording, was further proof that all the critical praise he had been receiving was well deserved. The recording is an exploration of a style of popular Puerto Rican folk music known as La Música Jíbara. The Chicago Tribune summed it up best when they wrote: “The instrumental prowess of Zenon's playing, the vigor of his compositions and the sensitivity of his band to Puerto Rican song forms point to new possibilities in jazz.” Like his previous recordings, Jíbaro was uniformly well received and appeared on many top ten lists including The New York Times, Latin Beat, El Nuevo Día, and the Chicago Tribune.
Decidedly more personal and introspective, Awake (Marsalis Music, 2008) incorporates a string quartet and additional horns to Zenón's core group and brings to the forefront his formidable skills as a writer and arranger. As was admirably put in Audiophile Audition: “ This is an album far beyond the usual sax & string outing, revealing a unique statement that communicates passion, intellect and spirit to the listener." Awake also caught the attention of the international press, garnering it 5 star reviews and top honors in publications like Jazzwise (UK), Jazz Man (France) and Jazz Magazine (France).